Corporate Culture: Mapping Your Pain Points

Corporate Culture: Mapping Your Pain Points

Top Performance. Leading by Example. Active Involvement. Social Responsibility.

These phrases describe familiar values that are likely hanging as artwork on the walls at many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations. Promoting corporate cultures built on these core attributes helps companies attract customers and employees alike. In reality, the values are not much different from those that you might find on a wall at your everyday secondary school. They are that simple.

Yet, this particular set of basic principles is from Volkswagen, the German car manufacturer making the news night after night for the emissions-rigging scandal that has already claimed the careers of at least 10 of its leaders. It has quickly become an “existence-threatening” crisis, according to the incoming chairman.

It is still unclear how many employees among Volkswagen’s global workforce of nearly 600,000 were involved in the emissions rigging. There are already investigations and lawsuits underway to assign ultimate blame. What happened to those basic principles and the corporate culture within Volkswagen is not obvious to outsiders, but it is implausible that one individual rigged the data and kept this secret for years.

How could a corporate culture create an environment that would allow this type of off-roading? Where were the checks and balances? Where were the honest conversations and the management who should reinforce integrity at all levels?

Misconduct Running Rampant

The problem is not unique to Volkswagen. Consider this year’s much less publicized Toyo Tire incident, which marked the technology-oriented manufacturing company’s third time facing damaging allegations of misconduct since 2007. Toyo Tires has nearly 11,000 employees across the globe, and primarily manufactures rubber products used in transportation. In this recent case, the leadership team manipulated testing data for products supplied to 18 customers over 10 years. In a Nikkei Asian Review article titled, “Toyo Tire’s Problems Stem from its Corporate Culture,” the organization is described as “country club like.”

There is often a huge discrepancy between espoused values and actual behavior. According to Toyo Tire’s global website, the company’s core value statement is: “A company of specialists who are committed to ensure safe performance and improve the quality of stability.” This statement accompanies value driven actions: Protect and Stabilize, Deliver, Improve and Win. It seems that despite the espoused values, employee behavior differed greatly as various departments and teams were encouraged to falsify data and record keeping. Evidently, Toyo Tire’s leadership focused solely on the financial “win.”

If organizations begin with such good intentions of meeting their core values and lofty mission statements, what goes wrong along the way and how can it be stopped? Could a stronger, more cohesive corporate culture help build a workplace filled with honest conversations, collaborative and compliant work streams, and integrity?

Culture Matters

An expert on organizational development, former MIT professor Edgar Schein wrote: “Culture matters … If the organization begins to fail, this implies that elements of the culture have become dysfunctional and must change. Failure to understand culture and take it seriously can have disastrous consequences for an organization.”

For a business with a strong moral compass among its leadership team, culture mapping is an exercise that aligns organizational culture to the bottom line. By using assessment tools, leaders can identify where there are gaps between the espoused values and the actual day-to-day behavior.

In the last 20 years, numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between an organization’s culture and bottom-line performance metrics.  According to Denison Consulting, an organization with 25 years of experience in benchmarking more than 1,000 global corporate cultures and their leadership teams, the higher the culture scores, the better the financial performance as evaluated by return-on-assets, sales growth and market-to-book ratio. Denison’s proprietary tool focuses on measuring four key themes: adaptability, mission, involvement and consistency across an organization, with beliefs and assumptions as the heart of the culture.

Exploring Pain

While it’s clear that an organization’s culture identifies the collective values it cultivates over time with a distinct code of social behavior, a map of that culture will fail to resonate with C-level executives unless it also explores business pain points.

In business, values and financial performance cannot merely co-exist in mutual exclusivity—they must work as checks and balances for each other.

Reputations suffer when values are sacrificed. And it’s a slippery slope from stained reputations to stalled sales, as Volkwagen and Toyo Tires are witnessing.

Conversely, businesses place their economic viability at risk when culture disproportionately dominates. Consider the many beloved, now defunct, brick-and-mortar book and music retailers that were familiar spots on main streets and mall corridors. Once employers of choice for teens looking for cool places to work on weekends and summers, these businesses became vulnerable when they failed to realize that the same demographic base had turned to other modes of entertainment as customers.

How Does the Map Work?

A well-executed culture map correlates to business outcomes such as profit growth, sales growth, customer satisfaction, innovation, employee engagement, risk or safety, and quality. Arming managers with a business case for establishing culture as a priority allows them to engage in an honest conversation of how employees, customers and other key stakeholders perceive the organization.

Keep in mind these critical steps in culture mapping:

  • Understand the difference between a culture survey and an employee engagement survey. Organizational culture mapping offers the big picture of how an organization functions. Employee engagement refers to individual employees’ level of engagement with their jobs and their organization. Typically, engagement is an outcome of a healthy culture. Within an organization, there is a place for both analyses. Starting with the overall culture benchmark allows the organization to understand its strengths and weaknesses and better influence attitudes and actions that drives personal engagement—which ultimately impacts business performance.
  • The real work begins after the data is gathered and analyzed. Ideally, a cross-functional team including human resources and internal communications builds an action plan based on results and their impact on overall business performance. The planning exercise should include a well thought-out timeframe—culture change does not happen overnight. Long-term planning and additional pulse checks are key to making sure the program has both the breadth and depth to make a difference.
  • Communicate results of the survey and a preview of the action plan to employees. These simple measures reinforce the organization’s desire to improve in areas deemed critical to the future of the business and those who depend on its success. Additional organizational development and skills training may also be necessary.
  • To sustain a long-term plan, reassure and educate the workforce about progress. Sharing success stories throughout the evolution, in a variety of tactical ways, helps employees connect with the change and better execute the strategy. From videos and town hall meetings to posters and intranet articles, communications must reinforce to employees the ongoing progress and direction.
  • Find ways to encourage ongoing dialogue. Additional information, thorough follow-up pulse checks, focus groups or even additional survey metrics, may be necessary. The important thing is to keep the door open for honest feedback and evaluation.

Journey vs. Destination

Like any good map, a culture map is only useful when the readers understand where they are in relation to the destination. Everyone should be headed in the same direction, using the same type of map. Culture is too important to grow haphazardly.

It is certainly not clear how Volkswagen and Toyo Tire veered off course and far from their stated missions.  To overcome their current crises, these organizations have to explore their current pain and define, execute and nurture sustainable cultures that support their overall business performances.

It is not a destination. It is a journey.

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    Ann Camden is Managing Director, Client Service, G&S Business Communications. As a business strategist, Ann believes that strategic planning is the foundation of all communications. Ann plays an integral role in developing strategies to build and enhance corporate reputations and strong brand identities for clients in agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, technology and professional services. She also manages external and internal communication efforts on a broad array of organizational needs ranging from change management and employee outreach to marketing programs. She has led GSU, the G&S internal management training program, and is a member of the Midtown Raleigh Alliance and the International Association of Business Communicators. Ann is a long-term member of the Advisory Board of Communications at Elon University, and an active board member for EarthShare NC. Ann was honored as a Triangle Woman Extraordinaire by Business Leader in 2011 and received the Horizon Award from National Agri-Marketing Association in 2012. Ann has a degree from Purdue University. Ann applies her life philosophy of “go above and beyond” to both her client service and her training for road races.

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